Mental health: the inspiration behind Dina Calligraphy

Dina Lu shares how she turned a passion project with her mom into a full time business.

For many years, my mom struggled with mental health, specifically depression.

After my parents divorced when I was in high school, my mom developed psychosis, a mental condition that results in a contorted view of reality and manifests in the form of delusions and hallucinations. 

But I didn’t know.

When I finished university in 2017 and started working at my first job, I couldn’t have a proper conversation with her for months because everything she said was delusional. Finally, in early 2018, my mom’s delusions became too disturbing for me to handle—I had to find a solution. 

I knew she had something on top of her depression, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Thankfully at my workplace there was an employee counselling assistance program. With the counsellor’s advice, much patience, and over a couple of months, I convinced my mom to get diagnosed.

My mom lived at the hospital for a month in the summer of 2018 and took antidepressants and antipsychotic medication. During that time, I had no mental energy to do anything properly and took a few days off work for my mental health.

Calligraphy, art, and mental health: the beginning

After my mom was discharged from the hospital, my mental energy was freed up to think about a personal dream: to have my own side business.

With this newfound energy, I started brainstorming ideas. I was spending a lot of time on Pinterest and somehow stumbled into a calligraphy and art hole. My mom didn’t have a job, so I thought, “Maybe I can learn calligraphy, get my mom to paint, and then sell cards with her?” 

My mom always had painting supplies lying around, so I told her about my idea and asked if she wanted to team up. I thought the idea was brilliant because we could make some side income and spend time together as mother-daughter bonding time. 

She agreed, so I decided to name the business Jennidi Creative: a combination of my mom’s name, Jenny, and mine, Dina.

I started to post my calligraphy and my mom’s art on Instagram, while also sharing about my mom’s recovery.

My friends started to slowly discover my new account and encouraged me to keep going. After a few months of sharing my calligraphy, my mom’s art, and her recovery on Instagram, I designed cards with my mom, just in time for the holidays.

I digitized stars she drew during her second hospitalization then added my calligraphy for the cards. In December 2018, I sold about 100 of these cards.

Dina and her mom holding Christmas cards. Photo Credit: Dina’s Instagram.

From passion project to full-time business

After the holidays, I knew I wanted to continue the business. But how?

As I was brainstorming what to do with my business, I was also volunteering for League of Innovators (LOI), a Canadian charity that supports young entrepreneurs under 25 years old. As an LOI Connector, I helped organize events for university students and was inspired by full-time entrepreneurs younger than me. 

Watching them got me thinking; if they could do it, could I? 

I started testing ways to expand my business. In February 2019, I taught my first calligraphy workshop. I found that I enjoyed teaching and started doing them once a week. Over the months, I gradually learned more about running a business and met other entrepreneurs. 

Dina teaching a workshop. Photo Credit: Dina’s Instagram.

As my business gained traction, I wondered about my job. I had been in my job for almost two years, but I didn’t see anymore growth opportunities. So in summer 2019 after much thought, I resigned from my job to take my calligraphy business full-time.

The first few months after quitting my job were the hardest. For a couple of weeks, I was burnt out from working too much and had the worst shoulder and neck pains I’ve ever had.

But my hard work paid off. In 2019, I taught over 60 public and corporate calligraphy workshops.

A year and a half later

Helping my mom get properly diagnosed for her condition was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. But because of that, I started a passion project with her, which turned into a side business—and now is my career.

Right now, my mom is very stable with her condition. She takes medication every day and visits her psychiatrist at the hospital every month. 

My mom wasn’t involved in my calligraphy business after we sold Christmas cards in 2018, so in 2020, I changed my business name to Dina Calligraphy. Although my mom isn’t involved in the business anymore, the reason I started this business will remain in my heart forever.

Dina and her mother. Photo Credit: Dina’s Instagram.

My business continues to grow. I’m still teaching calligraphy workshops and am now focusing on getting corporate teams to do workshops as an alternative to paint nights. I’ve also started creating resources to help other aspiring calligraphers launch their own businesses by sharing what I’ve learned on my journey.

After all, I’ve learned a lot in the past year and a half: how to be more patient with my mom, how to digitize a greeting card, how to teach a calligraphy workshop.

But the most important thing I learned is to look beyond my challenges and do what I can in my control to make things better. This quote in particular helped me through tough times, and I hope it encourages you as well.

Dina Lu and her mother holding holiday cards they made.
Calligraphy quote by Dina. Photo Credit: Dina’s Instagram.

You can learn more about Dina and her business at her website or on her instagram @dinacalligraphy.

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